The Alarming Crisis of Mental Health In Our Schools

6 minutes Written by Dr. Cullen Hardy

It’s no secret: America’s educational system has needed a reboot for quite some time. 

With teachers on strike, children falling behind, high rates of bullying, and the pandemic, it’s no wonder our students are struggling with their mental health. 

Mental health spares none, and our younger generations are feeling this more than ever. 

While each age group of students has its own sets of challenges and stressors causing these alarming statistics, there are similarities that we simply can’t ignore. 

Let’s take a look at this distressing crisis plaguing the schools of our nation, and understand what we can do to help. 

The History Of Our Flawed Educational System: 

Before we dive too deep into why our children are so miserable within the walls of our schools, it’s imperative to discuss the foundation in which our educational system was founded upon. 

I won’t make this a long history lesson but cover the basics that you may not have known. 

The first schools in America took an industrial approach to learning. There was no personalization but it was efficient in creating agreeable, submissive future factory workers that would show up on time and take orders. 

By sitting at a desk listening to a teacher all day, the educational system did just that. 

Schools were focused on respecting authority, punctuality, obedience and basic reading, writing and math. 

Despite this being over two centuries ago, the educational system hasn’t changed. Some argue this is why our students are suffering. Our educational system wasn’t built for various learning styles, mental illnesses, or the income disparities our country faces. 

Mental Health In Elementary Schools:

With the world 2 years into the coronavirus pandemic, researchers are able to look back and see the alarming statistics among our children. 

Unable to fully understand the depth of a pandemic, children left school one day, to never return. Many of them never saw their friends, or teachers again. 

While some students transitioned to virtual learning with ease, this wasn’t the case for the majority. Not only were children faced with isolation from their peers, they were required to sit in a chair, and stare at a computer screen for hours a day. 

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Chicago asked 1,000 parents to describe how the pandemic has affected their children’s mental health. 

The results were startling: 71% of parents reported seeing a negative change in their children’s mental health with symptoms mirroring depression and anxiety. 

Despite children being back to in-person learning, the mental effects of coronavirus will run deep. Many children of abusive households were forced to stay within the four walls of their home day in and day out with no school to allow escape. Children that relied on food from the cafeteria to feed their hungry bellies were suddenly left to go hungry. In addition, the unpredictability of daily life, the loss of a family member or loved one due to covid, and the major changes to society overnight have created a generation of children who are struggling. 

Mental Health In Middle Schools: 

Middle school has long been one of the most difficult stages in a child’s life. 

The changes happening during puberty, the constant fluctuation of hormones, the confusion in finding their identity, along with peer acceptance, bullying, and schoolwork all make for what much of society calls a ‘moody teenager’. 

In addition to the common circumstances of adolescence, while navigating these waters, the coronavirus pandemic isolated teens to their homes without any socialization or peer support.

On top of this, add a constant portal to the online world where everyone’s lives are perfect, every girl is beautiful and skinny, and every boy is athletic and muscular, and you’ve created the perfect storm. 

United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murphy, issued a statement in December of 2021, about the frightening statistics on our youth’s mental health. 

The world-renown physician, researcher, and scientist addressed the feelings of hopelessness, depression, and suicide that are plaguing our youth. 

Some truly distressing facts about middle school mental health are as follows:

  • A teen commits suicide every 100 minutes
  • 20% of young adolescents experience depression before adulthood
  • Only 30% of depressed teens are being actively treated for their mental health
  • Female students are 2x as likely to develop depression

Some experts argue social media is to blame. Some mental health professionals believe young teens are under more stress than ever before. Others believe the American diet of processed, dyed foods is the culprit. Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying a crisis within our middle schools. 

Mental Health In High School:

As children grow, their mental health struggles don’t just disappear. With our nation’s glaring shortage of mental health services, this leaves many high school students unable to decide where to turn for help. 

Poor mental health among high school students is more than just feeling sad from time to time. Loss of motivation, feelings of hopelessness or unworthiness, and overall anxiety can hinder them from performing at their best (during a time that is imperative for their future).

Older teens often feel as though they are invincible. This state of mind, paired with crippling mental health struggles can lead to many risky behaviors such as drinking, or using drugs. This can lead them even further down a path of despair and destruction. 

According to a 2019 survey done by the Center for Disease Control:

  • 1 in 3 high school students struggle with depression 
  • Suicide attempts rose by 50%
  • 1 in 6 students made a plan to commit suicide within the last year
  • 50% of non-heterosexual students had considered suicide within the last year 
  • 50% of black students had considered suicide within the last year 

Outside factors such as social media, college plans, peer pressure, responsibilities, schoolwork, and family issues are often pointed to the most when discussing the why behind our nation’s high school mental health crisis. 

Our Schools Are Suffering, But You Can Help:

Looking at these statistics, our educational system is painted a very dark picture. 

Our children are hurting, and often it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. 

However, many common factors such as social media and the pandemic have clearly contributed to the downward spiral of our nation’s students. 

If you’re an educator, you have the power to help kids directly. Linking them with local mental health services, providing a safe and welcoming classroom, and integrating social-emotional learning into daily work can show your students you genuinely care, and support them. 

If you aren’t an educator, you may be a parent. Equipping your children with an open, honest, pathway of communication between you is the greatest gift you can give them. Allow yourself to listen without reacting, and speak without judging. Spend time with your child enjoying things they are passionate about or enjoy engaging in.

It’s truly as simple as being present, and an active listener to heal our children one day at a time.

Avatar Dr. Cullen Hardy

Written by Dr. Cullen Hardy

Dr. Cullen Hardy is a therapist in Michigan who specializes in couples, family and individual therapy.